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tv   Battle of the Crater  CSPAN  August 21, 2014 1:34am-2:45am EDT

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and, of course, it was very popular, so most people north, south, east coast, west coast, middle of the country, liked this movie based on ticket sales and the continued popularity of margaret mitchell's book. one more. oh. okay. keep going. oh, sorry. you, sir. >> question. we have this explosion that takes place and you have the bottom of a hole and the top of the hole. what provision, if any, was made by the union to get from the bottom of the hole to the top of the hole so you can invade the confederate lines? >> no provision made for the troops to get out of the crater once they're in it. and it's difficult to tell in numbers, craters are very hard. you have these lovely little battle maps here at gettysburg that shows this regiment, this place at 10:00 a.m. and 10:15, at 10:30. we don't have that with the crater because people are just too mingled up, all sense of
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cohesion of a battlefront is lost on both sides, north and south. and so it's unclear how many people are stuck in the crater. they're stuck in there well enough for one survivor to say that the men who were dead couldn't fall and the living were squirming beneath their feet and blood is running into the tops of their shoes. so i don't know how many that is, but most people on the outside trying to move forward but the problem is they didn't know that these honeycombed bombproofs were behind the battery or a whole other line of confederate earthworks there or that the confederates have just right positioned their artillery to have this enfilading fire, crossfire directly into what had been elliot's salient. they thought they knew were all
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cannon were. >> disclaimer. this may be a controversial question. >> yes. >> when the black soldiers were captured and they were going to be sent to prison camps, how come confederates didn't re-slave them since they were considered property and there was a proclamation about a year
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runaway slaves and, of course, people come and look for them and take them back into their ownership. some people don't come looking because they don't live in virginia. they're maryland runaways or delaware slaves. of course, there are free blacks from the north who have enlisted. so they'll be kept in these slave pens right down here in shockoe bottom. and they'll be there if they survive until the war ends. some of these people rejoin their regiments and they go from missing in action to, you know, what happened to you? so we get the details of what happened to them. not very great details but at least, you know, which slave pen they may have been held in. and as far as why the confederates don't actually implement their may 1863 law, it's the law, i think people forget this. white officers had to be
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executed if they're found leading black men to combat, and blacks when captured, which already suggests you don't really need to take them prisoner, are going to be turned over to the state authority in whichever state they've been captured in and dealt with as if they were leading a slave insurrection. it's just easier to kill them. as seen at poison spring, as seen at ft. pillow. as seen for many at crater. as will be seen in other battles during the war. thanks. >> this is a lesson learned question. during meade's conversation with grant, and grant being the commanding officer at vicksburg, and during the vicksburg siege there was another mine attempt there as well. didn't succeed. in your research, is there any conversation that has been recorded where grant reflects back the vicksburg and said, you know, we tried it there, didn't work, maybe we should not try here.
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just as a lessons learned. because, again, one big thing, all militaries do, you capture your lessons learned, try not to repeat mistakes. >> i spoke with terry when he was still at vicksburg. i can't find any evidence of grant saying anything about this vicksburg mine that was a disaster. when the petersburg mine came around. because he's not overly enthusiastic about it, i think in the back of his mind he's, this might work and it might not work and whatever. but i don't get any real sense he's really reflective about it. yes? >> you mentioned several times about the additional fortifications built behind the salient that the union was not aware of. one of the new technologies that arrived in the civil war was balloon observations. were there any balloons that they might have used to observe? >> no, no balloon use in 18
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1864-1865 by the federals or the confederates for that matter. pete has a question. so rob ert e. rhee is his question. can he hold him accountable for the killing of u.s. colored troops after they stop the battle? lee is very near the battlefield the whole time, less than a quarter mile away, right behind the busted hole in the confederate line. they come out onto the field for an unreally clear amount of time after the battle. it's my observation that lee and borg must have seen some of this killing. what i do hold them accountable for, and grant and meade, is
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that they leave their wounded, the federal wounded out there on the battlefield in the 100-plus degree heat because meade doesn't want to admit defeat, and it's preposterous to leave these people out there bleeding, crying out in agony. by the time they have been recovered, the other comment meade staff says is that the bodies are so black from the sun, they're bursting now. also white because maggots are eating their flesh, all of that could have been avoided if the letter that meade did write, he had just immediately sent it over to the confederates. and so there's all sort of intricacies if you want to talk about more, we can, of where the letter is going and how we're going to arrange the flag of truce and it takes almost a day and a half, almost two days. it's really disgusting. i say to those people, these men
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are not heroes. i guess that's it. thank you. [ applause ] thursday night, a look at the civil war's atlanta campaign. in may 1864, union general william sherman marched into georgia with a goal of capturing atlanta. after a series of battles through the summer and a siege of the city, atlanta fell to the union on september 2nd, 1864. we'll hear about general sherman's march to the sea through georgia as well as joseph e. johnston who led confederates in the summer of 1864. also a look at confederate weapons manufacturing in central georgia during and after the fall of atlanta. that's all coming up thursday night here on c-span3. 200 years ago on august 24th, 1814, british soldiers routed american troops at the
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battle of boydens brg just outside washington, d.c. the victory left the nation's capital wide open to british forces who marched into the city and burned down the white house and the u.s. capitol. you can learn more about the burning of washington during the war of 1812 this thursday from author and historian anthony pitch at an event hosted by the smithsonian associated. our live coverage starts at 6:45 p.m. eastern. and more next saturday, august 23rd as we take you live for a panel discussion on the events of 200 years ago. that's live at 1:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3. next on the civil war, author cethen levin discussed the role of the u.s. colored troops in the civil war's battle of the crater and the way their contributions were remembered in the years following the civil war. organized by petersburg national battlefield, this is an hour and
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ten minutes. i'm chris bryce, chief of interpretation with petersburg national battlefield. for those of you who have been with us for the last couple com 150th anniversary of the battle of the crater, thank you, and welcome to those who have not attended the program this evening. i want to, before we get started, thank yous, specifically for st. paul's church for allowing us this wonderful venue for our programs earlier today and for the one we're about to have here this evening. i would like to thank the rector of the church, rick greenwood. i would also like to thank this evening the senior warden of the church, steven tuck, and steven is in the back, so give him a round of applause because he's keeping this open for tonight. but again, it's one of the things we try to do with the programs that we've been
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offering, especially today, and i don't think we could have had better venues being indoors today with the weather, but we were at guilfoyle baptist and i see, mr. powell, you're here this evening and we appreciate the courtesy we were given this morning with your congregation and here tonight at st. paul. we chose these two locations because they were congregations that were in existence at the time of the civil war when these events were happening. in the case of st. paul, it has origins, the congregation has origins set to the early stage of virginia's history when we're still emerging as a colony and getting our feet under ourselves here. but the current church where we are today was built between 1855 and 1857.
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it did bear witness to the events here 150 years ago, a 9 1/2 month siege at st. petersburg most likely was under fire as were a number of buildings here in petersburg. during the course of the siege, a number of confederate officers worshipped here, robert e. lee, george pickett, a.p. hill, among some of them. e.p. alexander, who was chief of artillery for james longstreet. lee's rector, i believe someone held their hand up, there's a plaque recognizing that. if you want to get pictures of that, certainly feel free to do so. without further delay, i would like to introduce our speaker tonight, mr. kevin levin. he completed a master in history of the university of richmond. his thesis became the basis of his most current book "remembering the battle of the
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crater, war's murder" which was published in 2012. he's currently an instrekter of american history at gan academy near boston. and fortunately, kevin in his day-to-day work, gets to challenge his students to conduct original research, critically evaluate historical sources, and analyze historical events. in addition to his book, he has written several essays for the "new york times" and the "atlantic" as well as popular magazines in a number of academic journals. you can follow him, follow his thoughts on many other issues related to the american civil war and how the four-year conflict was and continues to be remembered by following his award winning blog called the civil war memory. it's my pleasure this evening to introduce you to you kevin levin.
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>> good evening, everyone. before i get started, i also want to thank st. paul's church for opening its doors tonight. i can't think of a better venue for this particular program so thank you. i especially want to thank the national park service for inviting me down to just be a part of the 150th of the crater. from about 2000 to 2011, i lived in charlottesville, virginia. i taught, i spent most of my time writing and thinking about the american civil war. i researched and wrote just about all of the book in charlottesville. and then in 2011, i didn't anticipate this, but my wife and i ended up moving to boston and of course those of you who visit boston know that bostonians tend to focus on that other event in american history, right? the american revolution. and that's okay. i can deal with that, but my
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heart, my interests continue to be in the 1860s, and so over the last few years, it hasn't been easy because all of these commemorative events have been going on in virginia and elsewhere, i kind of felt like an outsider, so to be invited back for this particular event for me is a huge honor. so thanks. i appreciate it, and thank you all for coming out tonight. so before i get started, i just want to make one point clear, that i am going to -- i'm not going to sensor the words of the historical actors, if you will, that i reference tonight. and i do think it's important that we learn to sort of come to terms with the language, the world that they lived in. so with that said, i'm going to get started. a little over a year ago, much of our nation's attention was focused on gettysburg for the 150th anniversary of the battle.
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tens of thousands traveled to the famous town to walk the fields and connect with our civil war past. there is indeed something magical about that place. it's a battle that is full of drama and easily excites the imagination. we follow the two armies to the point of their initial contact on july 1st, 1863. just west of the city. and painstakingly trace their movements and bloody fighting during the following two days. visitors and civil war enthusiasts alike look for the moment on which the outcome of the battle depends. it was yule at the end of the first day where longstreet on the second or perhaps as george pickett later suggested, the yankee army had something to do with it. a year later, and while americans continue to flock to gettysburg, enthuse amp for the war inquy 64 has diminished. this shouldn't surprise us. the battles that raged across virginia beginning in early may
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1864 that eventually stretched from the rappahannock to the apamatic river here in petersburg fail to excite in the way that battles from the first half of the war do. armies no longer march long distances to engage one another in what could be decisive battles. gone are the daring maneuvers orchestrated by stonewell jackson where jeb stuart's ride around the clone. we yearn for the open fields of manass manassas, antietam and fredericksburg where for our vantage point, war almost seems more civilized compared to what is to come. battle battles at cold harbor lock the battles ogether on confusingthe landscapes mired in blood, day in and day out, with mounting casualty lists and no end in sight. there are plenty of acts of bravery to react on both sides
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and the rank and file largery remain committed to their respective causes, but 150 years later, it is difficult to find meaning in the midst of such blood letting. and then there is the petersburg campaign. for most people, the nine-month campaign can be reduced to a few photographs of miles of earthworks filled with begrimed veteran soldiers doing their best to stay out of the view of snipers and awaiting the next order to charge in what for many are still a series of nameless battles that stretch to early april 1865. the one exception to this admittedly narrow view of the campaign is the battle of the crater. the city 150 years ago on july 30, 1864. i suspect that for many visitors, the 150th anniversary of the petersburg campaign will begin and end with this commemoration.
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but there are any number of aspects of this battle that are worth recalling from the challenges associated with the construction of the mine to the early morning explosion of 8,000 pounds of course blasting powder. the explosion was clearly seen by those in the immediate vicinity and felt for miles around. the war ended in the most violent way for roughly 300 men in steven elliot's south carolina brigade who were positions directly atop the mine. i shall never forget the terrible and magnificent sight, the earth around us trembled and e heaved so violently i was lifted to my feet, and then the earth around the enemy's line opened and fire and smoke shot upwards 75 or 100 feet. the intensity of the violence over the course of about eight hours and the confusion caused by the dramatic disturbance to the landscape itself created an other' worldly scene that was
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unlike any previous battle. in the initial union charge, soldiers gazed at the destruction wrought by the mine and many found that the better angels of their nature and proceeded to dig out half-buried confederates and tend to the wounded. the charge of jurgeneral ambros burnside's core, including four divisions, one made up entirely of united states color troops, was poorly executed and while not doomed to failure, it certainly quickly unwound. the timely arrival of confederate brigadier general william mahone's division, including a brigade made up of virginias raised in part in the petersburg area, helped to secure victory by early afternoon. by then, hundreds of dead and wounded lay in an your yeah not more than 150 yards long and 100 yards wide. william h. stewart described the crater as, quote, a veritable
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inferno filled with sounds of suffering and paved with the rigid dead. a delay in agreeing to a truce left survivors abandoned in a field that hovered around 100 degrees. the official report identified 361 confederates killed, 727 wounded and 403 missing out of the force of roughly 10,000 engaged. union casualties numbered including 504 killed, 1,881 wounded and 1,441 missing. compared to other civil war battles the casualty count is relatively small. but if we look more closely, we can begin to disearn what for many of the participants was the defining feature of this battle. from all union casualties, 41% belonged to the two color brigades of brigadier edward
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ferrero's fourth division even though they constituted only 21% of the men engaged. how union and confederates responded to one another at the crater and how they remembered the battle after the war was shaped directly by the presence of a large number of armed african-americans in uniform. the racial element of this battle has always held the most interest for me. in my mind, it best reflects the hard turn that the war had taken by 1864. even as it continues to beguile and divide americans who are committed to remembering and commemorating the civil war. the history memory of the crater offers little for those looking for -- looking to remember the sanitized war where brave americans fought one another without any concern for its cause and consequences. to understand the crater and its legacy, we need to put aside convenient labels that
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oversimplify historical memory and even there to push past the national park services preferred narrative framework of from civil war to civil rights. to grasp the larger aspect and full racial complexity of this battle. the stories that emerge from the crater challenge us to look at the toughest issues related to the war, to even begin to approach them, we need to allow ourselves to feel just a little uncomfortable and listen to all accounts, including those that use harsh language reflecting the racial divide of the time. the presence of uscts on the crater battlefield signified a dramatic shift in the goals and policies of the lincoln administration. by the summer of 1862, president abraham lincoln turned to a limited plan of emancipation and recruitment of black soldiers as a means of sasking the union. despite the deeply engraved
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racism that was in the ranks and society. tens of thousands of formerly enslaved blacks took the opportunity to fight for their freedom as well as family members still held in bondage. military service offered black men the opportunity to prove their manhood and the possibility of securing political and civil rights in a reconstructed union. even after learning that burnside's original plan would called for the fourth division to lead the union attack, had been change said, the men under ferrero's command anticipated that the next assault would be proof enough of their bravery. by the time they received their orders on the morning of july 30th, the battle had been raging for close to three hours. three union divisions were already crammed into the crater as well as the complex maze of confederate traverses and earthworks. little progress had been made as south carolinians who survived the initial explosion along with
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north carolinians and virginians stubbornly held to their positions. the first indication of the presence of black troops on the battlefield was their battle cry of no quarter. and remember ft. pillow. a reference to the recent massacre of black troops at ft. pillow, tennessee. the two brigades of ferrero's division wound their way over open ground and did their best to steer clear of the maelstrom inside the crater. a few units along with scattered white units were successful in maneuvering into positions beyond the crater and stood poised for a possible assault on bl blanford heights overlooking petersburg. the arrival on the field of mahone's confederate division not only prevented a breakthrough but added to the chaos and confusion already present. for many confederates, this was their first experience fighting black soldiers. quote, it had the same affect upon our men that a red flag had
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upon a mad bull, was the way one south carolinians who survived the initial explosion, described the reaction of his comrades. david holt of the 16th mississippi remembered, quote, they were the first we had seen and the sight of a nigger in a blue uniform and with a gun was more than johnny red could stand. fury had taken possession of me, and i knew that i felt as ugly as they looked. the vivid descriptions left by confederates in their diaries and letters suggest that this killing was of a different kind given the nature of the enemy. both the horror of battle and the rage experience of having to fight black soldiers must have been apparent to the mother of one soldier as she learned that her son, quote, shot them down until we got mean enough and then rammed them through with the bayonet. such detail allowed those on the homefront to experience this new danger at a comfortable
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distance. the communication of these violent encounters re-enforced the connection between the battlefield and homefront and provided soldiers, slave holders and nonslave holders alike, with a clear understanding of the dangers from which they were now defending their families. the fact that the battle occurred while defending a large civilian population also made it easier for family members and others more removed from the scene of the fighting to imagine the consequences of a union victory that now included black soldiers. once the salient was retaken, confederate rage was difficult to bring under control. confederates wrote freely about taking part in the execution of surrendered black soldiers and in admitting their own involvement in these incidents. jerome yates recalled, quote, most of the negroes were killed after the battle. some was killed after they were taken to the rear.
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james vanderly described it as, quote, a truly bloody site, a perfect massacre, nearly a black flag fight. i had been hoping that the enemy would bring some negroes against this army, and now that they had, wrote william, i am convinced that hit has a splendd effect on our men. he concluded that, though, quote, it seems cruel to murder them in cold blood, the men who did it had very good cause for doing so. years after the war, edward porter alexander remembered a quote, the general feeling of the men towards their employment, black soldiers, was very bitter. the sympathy of the north for john brown's memory was taken for proof, according to alexander, of a desire that our slaves should rise in a servile insurrection and massacre throughout the south and the enlistment of negro troops was
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regarded as advertisement of that desire and encouragement of the idea true to negro. it is estimated upwards of 200 black union soldiers may have been massacred during and especially after the battle. confederate accounts make it clear that they did not consider black men to be soldiers. indeed, the scale of violence accorded to black soldiers nears the swift response against slave rebellions both real and imagined that stretched back to the antibellum period. a few days after the battle, the richmond examiner published the following editorial, we begged him, mahone, here after, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded and come shouting no quarter, shut your eyes, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water and let the work which god has
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entrusted to you and your brave men go forward to its completion, that is until every negro has been slaughtered. make every salient you're called upon to defend a ft. pillow. butcher every negro that grant sends against your brave troops and prevent them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero. for the confederate rank and file, present on the battlefield that hot july day, as well as their loved ones back home, the introduction of black troops clarified just what was at stake in this war, the end of slavery and white supremacy. the presence of black troops at the crater did not escape the attention of their white comrades. the men of the 4th division proved to be convenient scapegoats as they were singled out by their white comrades for the army's defeat. they were easy targets for the obvious reasons related to race, but they were also clearly observed by many to have fallen
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back in confusion following mahone's counterattack. quote, the colored troops, according to edward wittman, had become panic stricken, dropped their arms and fled without dealing a blow. a soldier in the 117th new york recalled, quote, the reds gave one volley and a yell, and such a skedaddle you never heard of. a pennsylvania soldier simply noted, the devil himself could not have checked them. the vast majority of accounts that pinpoint destreet at the feet of retreating black men failed to mention the confederate attack also sent just as many if not more whites in full stampede. the collapse of all of the 4th division alone would have been sufficient to attract the attention of those looking to isolate blame for their defeat on july 30th. but the well-placed white soldiers in a situation that they had never before faced on a virginia battlefield. the scattered white and black
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units that collapsed in the face of mahone's countercharge fell back on positions held by their own men. these men who were desperately trying to hold their own positions now found themselves being stampeded by black and white comrades with incent enraged confederates in close pursuit. they responded by trying to slow down the retreating soldiers with their weapons. edward cook freely admitted that, quote, white troops fired into the retreating diggers, an officer in the 4th new hampshire used his saber freely
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the retreated blacks, according to alonzo rich of the 36th massachusetts, quote, mixed them up so that they, the confederates, didn't show white men any mercy at all. a few days after the battle, charles j. mills of the 56th massachusetts, spoke for many when he confided to his mother, quote, they cannot be trusted for anything, and are in short a hideous mistake, i fear. he of course was referring to the black division. the three white divisions had spent the morning holding pre r precariously to earthworks in and around the crater, but now their black comrades had unintentionally placed them in an even more desperate spot.
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the experience of fighting in close quarters re-enforced the belief that if blacks were going to be used militarily, they should do so independently of whites to avoid the kinds of problems experienced at the crater. the men of the 4th division also succumbed to the vortex of racial anger that swirled through the crater and adjacent works. their charge was animated by the goals of freedom, the promise of a reunited nation and civil rights, but their battle cry of remember ft. pillow also reflected a dark underbelly of revenge for the murder of their comrades, and their understanding of what would likely happen in the event of their capture. earlier, on june 15th, 1864, colored troops in briadear general hings' division, successfully stormed a line of
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earthworks outside of petersburg. the assault received a great deal of attention in the press and in the ranks as well. but alongside praise of their battlefield prowess, stories of the execution of prisoners spread. the republican tribune headed its dispatch, the assault of petersburg, valor of the colored troops, they take no prisoners and leave no wounded. the commander of the 30th usct informed his family that the black soldiers fought splendidly and took no prisoners. one white soldier noted that the reds were shown no mercy. i saw some of them today, wrote another soldier. they said the white folks took some prisoners but they did not. while much more limited in scope compared to what they faced at the hands of confederates, this violence continued at the crater. lieutenant richard gozny of the 28th usct recalled that black soldiers went into the battles
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at the crater not expecting any quarter nor intending to get any. one soldier claimed that a confederate prisoner was killed by a black soldier with a bayonet and in agony, in an agony of frenzy. the reverberations of this battle echoed throughout the post-war years. very few americans in 1860 anticipated that in a few short years, 4 million slaves would be freed. americans struggled to come to terms with the meaning of the war, the end of slavery, and the role that blacks played -- the role that -- sorry. and the role that blacks played in the preservation of the union and emancipation through armed service. memory of the crater and its racial violence remained a particularly thorny problem for the black and white residents of petersburg and the nation at large. the veterans of mahone's virginia brigade, many of whom
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were from the petersburg area, continued to meet on the crater battlefield to remember fallen comrades, the cause for which they fought, and assure one another through the early years of defeat and an uncertain future. for william mahone, petersburg most prominent citizen up until his death in 1865, memory of the crater proved to be beneficial to his rise at a railroad magnate, but it cost him in dearly when in 1879, he organized the most successful biracial political party in virginia's history. for four years, mahone's readjuster party governored the state and witnessed a dramatic rise in black political power throughout the commonwealth. black and white readjusters abolished the whipping post, poll tax, which had been used to disfranchise black voters. the largest number of black virginians attended public schools for the first time with black teachers at the hoed of the class.
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african-americans could be found in the treasury department, pensions bureau, and other state offices. reconstruction came to virginia, not at the hands of meddling yankees but as the result of the actions of one of their own, and mahone paid a hefty price for it. former virginia comrades who fought with mahone at the crater, including david wisager, turned on their former commander, comparing him to john brown and benedict arnold. his detractors questioned whether he was even present at the crater or gave the order for the charge that many believe saved the day for the confederate army. the irony of all of this was not lost on prominent black readjuster and petersburg resident robert a. paul. they who had fought on the feied of blood and labors in the arena of politics to deprive the colored man of his constitutional rights now proclaimed that colored men
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should enjoy the full rights and prerogatives of citizens. petersburg's black community held tight to a mummeemory of t war that placed emancipation and black military service at its center. black militia companies readily took part in public parades to mark the anniversary of lincoln's emancipation proclamation on january 1st and independence day on july 4th. such occasions offered ample opportunity to remind the community to remember the bravery of black soldiers during the haitian revolt as well as their role in such civil war battles as ft. wagner and the crater. one local politician implored the militia and the rest of petersburg to reject the commonly held belief that they had no military tradition. quote, it makes my blood boil to hear people say that the colored
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man cannot fight. an editorial in the petersburg lancet urged its readers to quote, never cease to praise the valor of their sacred dead and create monuments in their honor, owe in gratitude, and shame on the colored people of the united states who show such little appreciation for the valor of negro soldiers who died for the preservation of the union. the editorial exhorted its readers to support a monument to the black heroes, quote, who leaped over the fortifications at petersburg with their muskets in our defense and suffered their bodies as it were to become breastworks while pouring out their blood most freely and willingly for our redemption from bondage. the opportunity to commemorate the military service of black americans and sacrifice anywhere in petersburg and specifically at the crater was lost by the early 20th century. white virginians exercised tight
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control over public memory of the crater through monument dedications, reunion ceremonies and post importantly, re-enactments or as they called them, sham battles. on november 6th, 1903, 20,000 people attended a re-enactment involving the still living veterans of mahone's virginia brigade. the veterans marched through the streets of petersburg and put on a show for an audience that now included the children and grandchildren of the civil war generation. one of the attendees was a young douglas freeman who committed himself to telling their stories. there is no evidence that any african-americans attended this event, though the symbol of the loyal and faithful slave was well represented in the form of stonewall jackson's personal servient who led the parade of veterans through the streets. a larger re-enactment in 1937
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numbering upwards of 50,000 people, imagine that, 50,000 people at the crater battlefield, 50,000 people marked the crater battlefield's inclusion into the national park service. as was the case in 1903, the ceremony highlighted the bravery of mahone's virginians but made very little effort to acknowledge the presence of united states colored troops. the success of jim crow legislation in virginia was clearly discerned in the absence of any serious attention to the presence of black soldiers and it is likely that very few if any local african-americans atte attended. the black community's inability to contribute to memory was enhanced by a narrative that celebrated a war of brave northerns and southerners without any reference to slavery, emancipation, and black military service.
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this whites only narrative maintained a stubborn hold on america's collective memory through the 1970s. the first cracks appeared in the early '60s in the inevitable conflict between the racial strife of the civil rights movement and the civil war centennial celebration that ought to, quote, emphasize the victory of character by lee and others in emphasize the character of lee and others in rising abof the horrors of war and the shame of defeat. in petersberg, civil rights and civil war memory clashed on february 27th, 1960 at the william r. mceny library. the library restricted black patron's access to resources by forcing them to use a side endance and a poorly list basement.
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let by the reverends, 140 demonstrators from virginia state college and pea body high school took seats on the first two floors of the library. walker approached the library counter and asked for douglas south el free man's pultzer biography of robert lee suggesting they were not just challenging the local power structure but the history that had come to justify it. the blue bird theater, and the trail ways bus terminal restaurant along with broaden national trends dampened enthusiasm for an elaborate commemoration of the crater in 1964. there is in evidence that in 1960 the local sen centennial
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commission was planning to do an original reenactment of the crater. that never happened. more importantly black political action here in petersberg and a more visible presence in local and state government have brought about profound changes to the finds of stories remembered and commemorated in the city. the two have always been tighten interwoven. these changes have been gradual over the past few decades and petersberg remains a work in progress. the biggest challenges remains connecting locals to the battlefield. during the course of my resea h research, one gentleman remembered the crater was the place quote, where the war was fought. where an explosion took place. the feeling that there was nothing at the crater to give meaning to my life was reinforced during the era of segregation by an unstated
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belief that the battlefield is the domain of life. the crater quote was a name but it meant nothing. this nation's collective memory of the civil war has undergone a profound shift since the 1960s popular hollywood movies, such as glory and more recently lincoln, 12 years of slave, have highlighted topics that more much too long have been ignored or distorted. monuments to the service of black soldiers can now be found on my civil war battlefields. our children's histofstory texts did a much better job a. even with all of these changes to the big picture, however, none of this matters if on the
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local level, we cannot connect the entire community to its past. superintendent lewis rogers said it best on tuesday, we want to be able to see ourselves in history. many of you in this room in the national park service and in the community have worked hard in recent years in this direction. this challenge is formidable. the battle of the crater races some of the most difficult questions about our nation's past because it challenges some of the most fundamental believes about us. it's much too easy to look away or settle on a celebatory or self-serving narrative that ignores the complexity of the past. the history of the crater is not black or white history. it is our history. ultimately we stand little chance of addressing the tough issue that's divide us today if we can't take an honest and collective past. thanks for listening.
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[ applause ] so i would normally walk around for questions but i don't think i can because cspan is taping and they need me to record it all. i think they are going to pass a mic around if you have any questions an i'm happy to entertain. is that the way we're going to do it? if you have any questions i'm happy to entertain them. i will do my best. there's one over here and one over here. one over here. >> i'd like to -- >> got it? >> something you said about the community not working together. the blacks and whites not
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working together commemorate their history. if you check the newspapers, probably in the 1910, 1920 period, you'll find that the that the confederate veterans and union veterans organizations both black and white actually commemorated memorial day today here in petersberg at our cemeteries and they did it together. not separately. somehow we lost that over some time here and there. maybe the depression and jobs and world war ii changed people but that's what happened early in the last century. they did memorials together. black, white, union, and confederate con70 confederate, ancestors and that's a fact. >> i didn't hear a question but i will respond.
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there is in evidence in the 1880s that there are occasions. in fact there was a memorial celebration, there's actually a very large parade where black and white civics do parade together. as far as i was able to discern is that that's more of an extension than t exception than the rule. i think it's really understand the focus of my talk is who had acce access, who had opportunity to shape the local public meaning of the war and crater here in petersberg. if you actually go back through the records and what you do find, especially at the crater, you find that it's pretty much a place where white virginian's go to remember their lost cause. that is the dominate narrative of the crater that is in place from the period after the war right through the 1970s. in fact in 1978 or 79, a local school group from howard university, traditionally a
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black college came up and just to do a survey of interpretation here in petersberg and the crater spesive ablingly. if you read their record it's fascinating. they expressed a number of concerns. there were probably no surprises if i could list a couple. very few african-americans interpreting on the battlefield. waste side markers that pretty much ignore the story of black souliers and issues of slavery. black life here in petersberg. i think no one in the national park service disagree. it's about time they get a new visitor center. it's probably time for a revision. it's pretty clear that the crater itself is the dominate narrative is a narrative of reconciliation between white northerners and white southerners. this is a place they are going to come and sort of shake hands
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over the bloody chasm but it's not a place that black americans visit. i found very little evidence that black virginians here in petersberg and elsewhere really spent much time on the battlefield. >> i got one question. i work with a couple of black guys. both of them are in their 60s now. they've never heard of the crater. they knew who crater today was. they said no, they had never heard of it because they were never taught it in school. they were never taught anything about the civil war in the black schools in the 50s and 60s. >> yeah. there are a number of very good sources that i could point you to. in the 1960s especially, the state of virginia actually ordered their textbooks to be
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revised and distributed throughout the state. the textbooks were authored and written in a way that was very much the reflection of the civil rights movement. if you actually look at the textbooks coming into the virginian schools at the time, it's almost in reaction to the racial strive that you see in virginia and other parts of the country throughout the 1960+yçs. again what you find in the textbooks and the sad thing is some of the textbooks are still being used in the 1970s. slavery, the chapter cover, right, it's about -- it's a slave family coming off of this boat fully dressed. they look upper classed and they are shaking the hands of the boat operator. they are being welcomed off the boat. if you read the text, the text is even more remarkable. the text basically says that african-american slaves on the eve of the civil war were not
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interested in the issues of the day. think about that not simply as history but also history written at a specific time in the mid-20s century. think about why these books are being written the way they are. those books, of course, are to longer being used. i would argue that. i think there are some questions over hoo. >> kevin, in doing the research for your book on the memory aspect, was there any one fact or idea that surprised you extensively or challenged any e preconception? >> it sort of gets to one part
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of the paper that i found absolutely fascinating. that is, i was -- i think when you study memory in the civil war. i will make it short. probably the most popular book if you wanted to start somewhere in thinking about how the americans remembered or forgot en part of the war was by the early 20th century white and black americans had largely reconciled and in doing so they were forced to push aside the issue of emancipation and slavery and black military service. there's a certain amount of tru truth so that. i had been influenced to such an extent that when i got into the archives, i was really struck by just how rich some of the local memories of how vibrant it was
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in some of communities. churches played a huge role in furthering or highlighting these stories. i think how vibrant it was. i was pleasantly surprised by it. it definitely complicated the story. mahone is the most fascinating individual in the story. i know we skirted the issue with mahone in the 1880s. he is blasted in the press for his racial politics. here you have a former -- high ranking confederate general who you might think of it if you want a modern word for it 19th century example of swift boating. he is blasted. he never recovers. his alliance with black
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virginians destroyed his reputation. we think of long street as of the confederacy. long street got nothing on mahone. mahone went out of his way to bring about the most dramatic shift in the racial politics of the state. it's a story that most people have never heard of it. absolutely fascinating. >> yeah, its with the battle of new market heights, i thipthere any athe battle of crater. if not was it because there was no volualor or it was so ugly - >> the dorsey was absolute
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example for proetecting the flags. i believe he's the only one. there's one back there and one back there. we will get to you. >> the party you talked about that mahone, did they rub kan candidates for state wide elections or national elections? >> mahone is selected as senator and aligns himself with republicans during his time in d.c. they run people throughout the state. they control the governorship. they control patronage. it's a complicated story but in 1883, the evidence -- the they
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are they named the re-adjusters because a big issue is what do you do with the massive state debt. do you pay it off entirely or part of it. mahone's position is you only pay off part of it because he was committed to funding certain public works. so the funders who wanted to pay it off tended to be more conservative. they tended to be more committed to sort of the racial status quo in virginia at that time. so the successful re-adjusters run people on county and state level. in 1883, his retractors stage at least one race riot in danville right on the eve of the election, that apparently -- some historians have argued that
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that had a profound impact on how virginians voted when they went to the poll. we tend to think after the war, that reconstruction next and jim crow is inevitable. that's what we're taught in schools if we get the right kind of class. jim crow in inevitable. in virginia it wasn't. you had reconstruction for the first few years and then reconstruction comes in this this odd way with the leadership of a forrer confederate. now how long that could have lasted, who knows? it just give you sense that post war virginia is a bit more complicated and interesting than you might think. someone needs to write biography of mahone.
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if you go into the archives and read your o read his own writing it's horrible. i don't know how much time i went through his archives, page after page and there are hours on end when i'm sitting here going who could read this? who is he talking to? somebody needs to get at that. my pleasure. >> having participated in a whole host of events that the central reason for the failure of the union attack was that the colored troops were not brought into the battle as they were planned to be. instead of going in early they came in very late.
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further that the decision to do that was a political one and that it was elevated to at least general grant. my question is what information is available since it was a political decision that the person of abraham lincoln, in fact, participated in making that specific decision. there's no evident that i had infer cou infer. lincoln is not involved in the decision making which is his approach anyway when it comes to grant. i think in part it is a political decision mead and grant are worried about the political consequences. there is a presidential election looming in november. ?y
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away from the 9th core entirely. it's hard to imagine that they are spending much time at all training for the crater. i think it gets back to how we tend to want to remember this story. the story of the black union
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soldier is front and center. i couldn't be happier about that. i think there's been a danger in the way the story has been pushed over the last few years. it is the moral narrative of our civil war memory. we want to correct for forgetting about them for so long. i think we tend to gloss over some of the darker sides of black soldiers. i don't think we're comfortable talking about black soldiers massacrering others. that doesn't fit into our minds right now. i think we want to believe if those black regiments had been allowed to lead the assault that would have been it. we can imagine black soldiers
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charging over brandfield hill into petersberg. that's a very soothing image. anyone who has studied civil war battles, there's nothing that goes as planned. is there any surprise given this massive detonation. >> no one can really predict what it will do to the landscape and what's yon it remember it's not that confederate front line that they'll have to deal with. in the 1920s, the crater ed about battlefield was an 18 hole golf course. you're really hard-pressed to get a sense of what it looked like in the 1880s. would it have changed anything?
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i don't know. no idea. >> i have a question about mahone. i'm quite fascinated with him as i am benjamin butler, too. my question to you is about mahone's ability to influence, communicate, what you found out about that. you must have been quite charismatic because i see how you can pull off being on one side of the war and then turning around and running under a republican ticket and also getting the african-american community to back him after screaming fort pillow on the battlefield. so i want to know more about hi, pers his personality.
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i'm assuming he must be ca charismatic like a clinton. >> that's an interesting question. for me reading of what i could read of his letters and especially what others wrote about him, he's kind of difficult to really decipher. i found him kind of this -- there's this wall in front of mahone. i will say this much about him. he he's very adept at utilizing his war record to get what he wants. it's not surprising because after the war mahone he becomes -- he's the president of this huge conglomerate of railroads very controversial here in virginia. he's got to play to the virginia government for permission to do things and assuage the concerns of local communities. he does this primarily by
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pushing his war record. he goes to reunions, the most popular popular reunions. it's interesting pause he doesn't fit the mold of the lost cause confederate. he's not concerned about whether or not the war was about slavery or not. he was concerned about the future of virginia. that comes through loud and clear not concerned about refighting the war. he does love his veterans that's for sure. so i don't have a sense of his emotional life at all. i think in part is because so little of his writing is accessible. i'm sort of brushing off your
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question but i hate to do so but i think that's the kind of thing that explains his success. he makes concern political alliances. >> they take full advantage of this. i know there was passed around the black community giving him a cane with a gold tip. the context of that is very important. of course you can see that as kind of playing to mahone's ego a little bit. we really love you. right? to everyone loved mahone in the black community so it goes without saying. maybe i can give you references
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but that's the best can i do. >> in your research of general mahone did you find any writings where he reflected back upon surviving the south ham ton slavery revolt in 1821. >> that's a great question. nothing explicit. i think it's important to remember that he probably would have grown up. he was born in monroe so he's not from the large slave holding class. so nothing specific but there's to doubt that mahone and others in that pat of virt of virginia have grown up hearing stories about gnat turners rebellion or violent slave rebellions throughout


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